Revolutionaries of the world, get out your headphones! M.I.A.’s long-awaited, relentlessly hyped, annoyingly titled new album ///Y/will finally come out tomorrow. Over the past several weeks, we’ve heard the officially released singles, the legit stream, and perhaps some sketchier leaked material, too, so few listeners are still in the dark about what to expect.
In fact, what we’ve really anticipating for the past few weeks isn’t so much the album itself as the reviews it would generate. M.I.A. is, if nothing else, fun to follow in the press because of the battle lines so clearly drawn around her. The biggest news so far has been that Pitchfork, who not long ago thought highly enough of Maya Arulpragasam to give her control of their Twitter account, panned the album, giving it a painful 4.4 rating. But that’s not to say that consensus has solidified around the release. Whether they love her or hate her, reviewers certainly seem to take her very personally. With critiques skewing both histrionically high and punishingly low, we’re rounding up some of the meanest and funniest quotes from ///Y/reviews (positive and negative alike) so far. Add links to your favorites in the comments.
“The record is a shambling mess, devoid of the bangers that characterized Arular and Kala, two of the stronger pop albums of the past decade. It aims to capture a technological and cultural zeitgeist in its over-stimulated, digitally degraded sound, but the songs are too flimsy to carry her bold conceit. Without compelling tunes, the obnoxious public antics, dubious political messages, and thin voice that had grated on her naysayers have become impossible for even dedicated fans to ignore. It’s as if everything that was great about M.I.A. has been stripped from this music, leaving behind only the most alienating aspects of her art and public persona.” — Matthew Perpetua, Pitchfork
“The problem with Maya is that the clamour around what she says seems to have begun influencing some of the music that she chooses to make. You can, at a push, blot out Lovalot’s lyrics, which spew out a list of inflammatory signifiers and acronyms – the Taliban, Barack Obama, Gandhi, Unicef, FBI – to such nugatory effect that she might as well have thrown in FCUK, IMHO and the RSPB as well. But it’s harder to ignore how embattled about half of the album is. There was something appealing about the sheer wilfulness of a multi-platinum artist coming back with the single Born Free, which seemed to operate from the principle that the song it sampled, Suicide’s Ghost Rider, was a little too chintzy and winsome for its own good. Similarly, there’s an initial frisson at the deliberate uncommerciality of Steppin’ Up, a song almost entirely constructed of dubstep beats, chainsaw noises and chugging nu-metal guitars. However, that soon dissipates. The result is lumbering and dead-eyed rather than thrilling, and moreover, oddly cold and unengaging.” — Alexis Petridis, Guardian
“M.I.A. has to realize that she no longer lives in a neighborhood where anybody’s hiding an arms cache (no workers of the world, anyway — though who knows what Brentwood’s power brokers keep in their wine cellars). Forging her own relationship with the old slogan, ‘the personal is political,’ she sometimes miscalculates the distance between herself and her beloved underclass.” — Ann Powers, L.A. Times
“So, what better way to fight the power (YouTube is nothing more than an extension of The Man into our lives, at least that’s how I’ve interpreted some of the lyrics) than by replacing the age-old ‘censor bar’ with YouTube seekbars?” — Nicholas Deleon, CrunchGear
“But on ‘Maya’ M.I.A. also descends to more standard hip-hop concerns: stardom, romance, dropping brand names and getting drunk. It’s a little strained when she rhymes ‘tight jeans,’ ‘Bruce Springsteen’ and ‘mujahedeen’ in ‘Illygirl,’ on the album’s deluxe version. Meanwhile her new musical frontier is singing full-length melodies, with help from Auto-Tune. That’s not so bad; only ‘XXXO,’ by far the most conventional club-style song in M.I.A.’s catalog, sounds like an attempted pop sellout.” — Jon Pareles, New York Times
“So why does she unfailingly rub me up the wrong way?
“Firstly because, while all manner of personality defects are tolerable in a rock star, smugness is unforgivable. Secondly because her lyrics and public statements favour the suspicion that we’re dealing with an artist who isn’t as intelligent as she thinks she is…
“Often, the most interesting moments arise when M.I.A. herself is absent.” — Simon Price, The Independent
“A viral video for the new album’s first single, ‘Born Free,’ caused further collateral damage with a shocking — and shockingly simplistic — agit-prop narrative. Though the director Romain Gavras is primarily responsible, the video suggested that M.I.A. was the worst kind of musical revolutionary – a ham-fisted one.” — Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
“What the Sri Lanka-bred Brit isn’t here is a very compelling musician. Much of ///Y/ sounds murky and almost punishingly discordant, as if the album has been submerged underwater and then set upon by an arsenal of exceptionally peeved power tools. The dizzy dynamism of her earlier work — a global stew of bhangra, baile funk, and hip-hop, politicized and hitched to block-party beats — is largely reduced to inert feedback and industrial noise” — Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“Sadly, the cumbersomely-titled ///Y/ might mark the point at which Maya Arulpragasam’s self-aggrandizing finally catches up with her ability to deliver. That ///Y/ lacks the focus and confidence of M.I.A.’s previous albums is disappointing; that it finds Maya content to follow, rather than lead, is indefensible. While many of ///Y/‘s best songs feel like warmed-over retreads of M.I.A.‘s previous work, its worst often feel like maneuvers cribbed from the playbooks of others.” — Mehan Jayasuriya, PopMatters